WASHINGTON — This week provided overwhelming evidence that Donald Trump is ensconced in the driver's seat of the Republican party, steamrolling internal competition, making political casualties of his rare detractors.
Look no further than Jeff Flake, Bob Corker and John McCain.
All three senators spoke against the president, warning of his unfitness for office and if this was intended as a rallying cry of rebellion, it produced little more than silence, slings and arrows from their own side.
The reaction of two men was telling: Sen. Ted Cruz and radio host Mark Levin. Both reluctantly endorsed Trump last year, after initially refusing to. Now they're acting as presidential enforcers, raining verbal blows upon Trump detractors.
Levin spent a solid half-hour trashing Corker for suggesting the president is mentally unstable and might cause a third world war. He called the senator "an egomaniac," "repulsive," a serial liar, detestable, a "creep," "jerk," "snake," "lowest of the low," "angry little man," "loathsome," and a "do-nothing, awful senator."
The host's basic point is Trump has achieved more for conservatives this year by signing executive orders on de-regulation and appointing Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court than a do-nothing Congress that hasn't passed a single major bill.
This same man initially refused to endorse Trump over slimy campaign attacks on Cruz — like insulting his wife, spreading rumours about his sex life and suggesting the Texas senator's dad helped kill John F. Kennedy.
This week, Cruz sided with the president.
Appearing on a show where the host bragged about delivering "crotch-kicks" to the crybaby senators, Cruz reacted to his colleagues this way: "We've got a job to do, dammit. ... All of this nonsense, I’ve got nothing to say on it. Everyone shut up and do your job, is my view."
Cruz blamed so-called moderate peers for blocking bills like the Obamacare repeal.
Those peers are now leaving: Corker isn't seeking re-election next year. McCain, with five years left in his term, is battling brain cancer. Flake just announced his retirement after one term, conceding the obvious: he would probably have lost his primary.
He followed up his dramatic resignation address with an op-ed in newspapers Wednesday titled, "Enough." Flake warned of a sickness in the political system and said people must speak up against Trump as they did against the red-baiting demagogue Joseph McCarthy.
"Nine months (of this administration) is more than enough for us to say, loudly and clearly: Enough," Flake wrote. "We can no longer remain silent, merely observing this train wreck... The longer we wait, the greater the damage, the harsher the judgment of history."
Other elected Republicans reacted equivocally.
David Lublin, a political scientist at American University, said Flake appeared to be begging colleagues to step out of the shadows and say publicly what they say privately about Trump, rather than deflect questions on the subject: "They shift the talk back to what they want, or to talk about how Democrats are even worse."
A pair of CNN interviews provided cases in point.
Like acrobats on a balance beam, lawmakers tiptoed over questions about Trump. Take congressman Duncan Hunter, asked whether he agreed with Flake that the president is a poor role model for kids.
His reply: ''I think he's a good role model in his business sense and now that he's president of the United States but I wouldn't want my daughters talking like him, no, or my son for that matter — but I'm probably not a great role model either. We all have pasts and we all have futures.''
He said he's happy because he agrees with most of Trump's policies so far.
Another senator, James Risch, was asked on the same show whether he should call out the president's more obvious lies and shot back: "That's your job." He said he can't be expected to spend his entire day going around criticizing everyone he disagrees with.
New poll numbers explain Trump's power within the party.
It goes beyond a Politico survey showing Trump with a 77 per cent approval rating among Republicans. A deeper snapshot came in a massive poll released by Pew hours before Flake's announcement.
The study of 5,000 people broke the American electorate into nine voter-types: four lean Republican, four lean Democrat, and one doesn't vote. And it just so happens that the most powerful group of Republican voters loves Trump most.
The group that comprises 43 per cent of politically engaged Republicans, people who put up signs, make donations and vote in primaries, is what Pew calls "Core Conservative" — mostly financially comfortable, male, believers in small government and likelier to support free trade.
These people voiced 93 per cent support for Trump.
Flake and Corker have opted not to face them in next year's primary. Or news outlets like Fox, which began its morning show Wednesday with a segment blasting the senators for attacking, "our commander-in-chief."
But Lublin said all this could backfire on the GOP. While Republicans love him, national polls show far lower ratings for the commander-in-chief.